“Willpower” is a Dirty Word

How using the word “willpower” in sobriety sets you up for failure.

Photo: Cata on Unsplash

I was having coffee with a friend yesterday in Bryant Park and we were talking about our respective drinking habits.

Before I got sober, he was my favorite drinking buddy. We used to run races together on the weekends, and afterward, we would have beers at our favorite bar. “Beers” meaning five or eight each in addition to a meal, leading to a 150-dollar bar tab on a Sunday morning. It was a load of fun at the time.

I got away from alcohol because it was no longer serving me. It probably never served me, but it wasn’t until this year that I came to the full realization that it was no longer adding value to my life. It seemed like alcohol was delaying my reaching everything that I wanted, so I vowed to walk away.

After 15 years of heavy drinking, I woke up on the day after Christmas hungover and completely self-loathing for the final time. Nine months have passed, and I haven’t touched the shit.

As we talked about alcohol, my friend said the words that I hate more than any others, as I believe they are the number one reason anyone who tries to stop drinking, smoking, or eating poorly fails time and time again. They are as follows:

“I don’t have the willpower.”

I guarantee you, if you are saying these words, you do not have the right mindset to stop those habits you hate. The good news is, once you stop saying those words, it’s going to get a hell of a lot easier.

Let me break it down for you.

I was a smoker for 18 years.

I loved to smoke. I had a hairdresser years ago who would say “I’d smoke in the shower if I could,” and I agreed with him. I loved it. Lighting a cigarette, placing to my lips, and slowly inhaling and exhaling the coolness of the menthol was just orgasmic to me. In reality, I was a drug addict. I talk about it in my article “How Quitting Smoking Helped Me Change my Whole Life,” but that’s an entirely different subject.

I was like a lot of smokers in the fact that I tried to quit (and failed) several times. And then, I finally read Allen Carr’s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and all of a sudden it made sense.

It was this book that introduced the concept to me that “willpower” was a dirty, filthy word that needed to be eliminated.

Please make no mistake, I think that the power of will and the human spirit is remarkable, and I do believe that you need to have the will to achieve just about anything in life.

The word “willpower,” however, does not have that meaning. Willpower means “to control impulses.” When people hear the word “willpower,” their brains automatically think “I’m going without.”

I’ll even take it a step further- when you think that you’re “going without,” you then begin to think things like “I’m missing this,” and “how long will it be until I can have it again?”

That’s where the real loss comes in. Once that clock starts in your mind about when the last cigarette, the last drink, or the last cupcake you had was, you’re going to immediately perseverate about your craving, which will intensify until it is satisfied.

You’re not “going without” anything when you give up the sauce.

I probably would have never figured out this concept so fast if I didn’t have to psychologically break my cigarette addiction.

Cigarettes and alcohol are both highly addictive, but the difference between smoking and drinking is that smoking is seen as very negative by society. Alcohol is generally seen as positive.

In his book Alcohol Lied to Me, Craig Beck says while we teach in education that alcohol is very negative, our society breeds into our subconscious the complete opposite. Drinking is not only encouraged but touted as a symbol of overall happiness and success.

Annie Grace says much the same in This Naked Mind, right down to the fact that as children, the messages we receive from adults work to prove that alcohol has something outstanding to offer us, and as soon as we’re old enough, we too can enjoy this wonderful thing they seem to be consuming exorbitant amounts of on the regular.

These are two of the reasons why when we go to walk away from alcohol, that gnarly word “willpower” creeps into our minds; because surely, to not have something so wonderful, that adds such richness to our lives, must be ultimate torture, and a true testament of will. Right?

Fuck off.

Alcohol is a serum of complete garbage.

Truly, I wish that the knowledge of alcohol being an addictive poison that contributes to the deterioration of your physical and psychological well-being was enough to keep people from touching it… but it isn’t. So, let’s say that alcohol is none of those things, just for the sake of argument.

Omitting these concrete facts, let’s talk about what else you’re “going without” when you stop drinking.

First, you’re never going to wake up in self-loathing regret for what you did or might have done, the night before. You’re not going to, in a panicked sweat, go through every one your text messages and emails for something stupid you may have sent, or have to frantically search your social media for obviously inappropriate posts.

You’re never going to have to scramble back through foggy memories to remember if you pissed in public, or yelled at a taxi driver, or insulted anyone in a restaurant while ordering food.

You’re never going to have that brain fog headache that lasts far into the day, forcing you to consume all of the wrong foods and beverages in a feeble attempt to “revive” yourself from low blood sugar and withdrawal.

You’re never going to have to scramble to remember if he “pulled out” and do the walk of shame to the pharmacy for a Plan B with last night’s uneven makeup caked on your face.

You’re never going to have to cancel all your credit cards because you lost your wallet or fork our several hundred dollars for a new phone because you somehow lost that as well.

You’re never going to fight the battle of “who can talk louder” in a conversation with friends or family that really isn’t a conversation, but rather just drunk people mirroring the same subject, shouting to themselves at one another.

You’re not going to, without being conscious enough to decide, order a meal that contains about a million calories and shovel in half of it four minutes before you fall asleep.

I could go on, but the concept here that I’m trying to introduce is that you’re not losing anything.

You were losing before, constantly. Alcohol constantly robbed you of your health and dignity. To go without it and view it as “losing” is the most preposterous thing I have ever heard.

You’re losing hours of much-coveted sleep.

You’re losing time. One of the first things you’ll notice in sobriety is how many hours you gain every day. People don’t realize what a time burglar alcohol is. Imagine how wonderful it would be if you had an extra hour or two every single day to do things you enjoyed.

“But I enjoy drinking…”

Sure, and I bet you enjoy being perpetually behind on everything else you need or want to do in life, right? You don’t enjoy drinking. Alcohol has you confused.

You’re losing physical fitness. You can train hard and eat right, but every time you drink, you will experience a setback. It might be so small that you don’t notice it, but it is real.

If you’re not someone who actively trains, I’ll be even blunter: alcohol is making you fat. Every time you drink it, your body has to work to process and get rid of that alcohol before it does anything else. Alcohol can’t be stored by our bodies, but guess what can be? Everything else. Not to mention, alcohol is an appetite stimulant and often will have you reaching for food that’s terrible for you.

When you drink, you lose more with every sip.

This is why we have to stop saying that dirty word “willpower.” You’re not restraining anything. You’re not “going without” anything. You’re gaining more and more with each day you don’t drink.

Psychologically, the word “willpower” has us longing and coveting for a substance that robs from us.

There is no willpower involved in making good choices for yourself. There is no restraint involved when giving yourself a gift.

This is what every single person who is trying to give up a substance that is not serving them needs to remember. It isn’t “going without.” It is an endless opportunity.

You are opening the gate to a life where opportunities will begin to magically present themselves to you. You’ll seemingly start achieving more with less effort. Your beautiful personality, unmuffled, will freely flourish again. Your body will finally be able to rest, energize, and fucking digest food properly. (That’s real.)

Give yourself the gift, and stop saying that dirty fucking word “willpower.” That’s not what this is.

I’m an unconventional thinker with quick wit. Coach. Sociologist. Mindset shift guru. Creator of getthefuckoff.com and the Get The F*ck Off Podcast

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